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Springfield Water And Sewer Infrastructure Gets A $500 Million Boost

Paul Tuthill
Work is underway to build new pipes under the Connecticut River to transport sewage from a pumping station in Springfield to the Springfield Water & Sewer Commission's wastewater treatment plant on Bondi's Island in Agawam.

Major funding has been announced for the largest provider of drinking water in western Massachusetts.

The Springfield Water & Sewer Commission has been awarded a $250 million low-interest loan from the federal EPA, which it will match with funds from other sources, to help speed the replacement of outdated infrastructure that supplies water to 250,000 homes and businesses in greater Springfield.

At an event Thursday announcing the funding, Assistant EPA Administrator Radhika Fox said the money will accelerate the Commission’s projects timeline by 15 years, create 1,700 jobs, and save ratepayers $60 billion.

“Just incredible what investments like this can do,” Fox said.

The funds will help pay for about 30 projects, said Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel, including significant upgrades at the water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant that are both more than 50-years old.

“Regulations continue to progress and technology progresses and our treatment plants have not,” Schimmel said.

The improvements planned at the water treatment plant will lower the levels of haloacidic acids in Springfield’s tap water. Although not considered an urgent health risk, the contamination has exceeded regulatory limits for years. It results from not being able to adequately filter organic matter from the water before it is disinfected with chlorine.

Another big project, which is already underway, will construct three pipes under the Connecticut River to carry sewage from a new pump station in Springfield to the Commission’s wastewater treatment plant on Bondi’s Island in Agawam.

One of the two pipes in use now under the river is almost a century-old and the other is more than 50-years old, said William Fuqua, Director of Wastewater Operations.

“It is a really important project for us,” Fuqua said. “It will replace critical infrastructure before it fails, which is important obviously.”

Projects are also planned that will help reduce the Commission’s carbon footprint and to prepare the water and sewer infrastructure to cope with the more frequent severe storms scientists say will result from climate change, said Martin Suuberg, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

“An extraordinary opportunity to build extraordinary projects,” Suuberg said.

Congressman Richard Neal, the Springfield Democrat who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, praised the ongoing investment in Springfield’s water system that he said is “the envy of the nation.”

“And never do we take that lightly,” Neal said. “When people turn on the water faucet in their homes they expect that it is not going to be poisonous.”

He said the lead contamination of the drinking water in Flint, Michigan a few years ago was a “grim reminder” of the consequences of trying to cut costs.

The $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. Senate and awaits action by the House would put billions of dollars into water and sewer infrastructure work.